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As we trust the Head of the church to build his church we must look to him for help to build a theology of singing in the church—consciously, purposefully, teaching the church to sing.

In 1971, Coca-Cola mesmerised the world with one of the most popular TV commercials of all time featuring young people of diverse ethnicities from around the world, gathered on a hilltop in Italy, singing with conviction, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony).”

The infectious jingle with its captivating words of hope struck a reverberating chord with the masses. Fifty years since the hit single, we cannot help but concede that Coca-Cola’s utopian dream of reconciliation and world peace has not fared as well as their skyrocketing sales.

The reality is we live in a fragmented world filled with pain and sorrow. We live in a culture that has become increasingly incapacitated by fear. It is in the face of such hopelessness that the Church has a new song to sing—one that is not mere wishful thinking but is grounded in Christ, our anchor of truth. It is on this sure foundation that we build our theology of singing by examining how we can teach the church to sing with honesty and hope.

Singing which begins with a high view of God will only lead to exalted worship of God. Singing which begins with a low view of God will only lead to exalted worship of the self.

Sing of the Glory of God

The psalms are the inspired songbook of God and give us imperatives like these: “Sing praises to God”, “sing the glory of his name”, “bless His name”, “declare His glory”, “ascribe the glory due His name” (Ps. 29:2; Ps 47:6-7; Ps 66:1-4; Ps 96:3).

They teach us the rudimentary purpose of singing—to shift our focus away from ourselves and direct them to the one who is worthy of every song we could sing. When we heed the words of scripture by ascribing greatness to the Lord our God, we by no means add to his glory but we rightly affirm what the heavens are already declaring—the beauty, majesty, wisdom, and knowledge of our all-sufficient God as displayed in his works of creation and works of providence.

Singing which begins with a high view of God will only lead to exalted worship of God. Singing which begins with a low view of God will only lead to exalted worship of the self.

Sing of the Gravity of our Sin

“Without knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of self.” John Calvin makes this profound remark in the opening section of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. A true understanding of who we are requires us to view ourselves in relationship to who God is and why he has created us.

When the light of God as revealed in his Word shines on our blinded hearts, we come to see the weight and depth of our sin. Until we are convicted of unrighteousness we would only consider ourselves righteous.

When we sing songs of conviction, we not only declare and delight in the attributes of God but also find language to offer our desperate pleas through songs of confession and lament. Songs that express grief over sin, sorrow, and suffering memorialise our desperate need for God.

Sing of the Grace of our Redeemer

Martin Luther, convinced that singing had to be rooted in the proclamation of the gospel once wrote, “For God has cheered our hearts and minds through his dear Son, whom he gave for us to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. He who believes this earnestly cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing,” as noted by Paul Westermeyer in his book Te Deum: The Church and Music.

When we sing of God’s grace, we sing of a hope that liberates us to live with confidence in a fearful age.

When our singing declares the glory of God, while lamenting the depths of our sin, our hearts must be stirred to sing of the glories of the saving power of God through his son, Jesus. Through our singing we rehearse the redemption narrative—though all are guilty and condemned, deserving of death; God being rich in mercy and love, sent his Son, Jesus, to bear our guilt and shame, paying the penalty for our sin, through his death on the cross.

This is the ultimate hope we cling to and declare through our singing—by grace, through faith, Christ has secured our freedom. When we sing of God’s grace, we sing of a hope that liberates us to live with confidence in a fearful age.

Sing the Gospel in Unison

I grew up in a local church where the choir led the congregation in the same “call to worship” every Sunday, an old familiar chorus—“Father make us one, Father make us one. That the world may know, that hast sent thy Son; Father make us one”.

There was a peculiar beauty in the way the choir sang this simple tune. On the first time through the entire chorus, all the voices in the choir sang the melody in unison. However, the second time they would break into a beautiful four-part harmony.

We sing not because we have a great voice but because we have a great Saviour.

I always felt it was the four-part harmony that made the song so rich and beautiful, while singing in unison made it dull. Only later did I realise that the flawless execution of the melody sung in unison was instrumental in bringing out the beautiful harmonies.

While scripture does not necessarily restrict our singing only to congregational singing, there is a greater emphasis on the people of God coming together to confess common truths and beliefs. As Paul instructs us, we are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts because we are one body (Col 3:15).

In this context of unity, Paul commands the believers to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Col 3:16). Singing is not optional. Every voice, irrespective of how good or bad it sounds, matters to God. When we sing in harmony, we remind ourselves that the church is one body comprising of different parts, each using the gift they have received to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Pet 4:10).

Importantly, when we sing in unison we remind ourselves of the corporate unity to which we are called—not only in our voices but in our hearts as well. We sing not to be united but because the gospel has united us as one. We sing not because we have a great voice but because we have a great Saviour. He has called us to sing redemption’s song—that in Christ alone, our hope is found.

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